Book: Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto

Cover for English edition of Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
Cover for English edition of Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto

by Banana Yoshimoto
published in English by Grove Press
1997 (Japanese original published in 1990)

Sakumi, a bereaved older sister who is drifting through life, falls on snowy steps, hits her head, and loses much of her memory. Her friends earnestly remark that she seems like an entirely different person.

But what does that MEAN?

Excerpt from Amrita (without spoilers).
Yoshimoto’s writing style when expressing Sakumi’s struggles with her memory loss can be very emotional, and include analogies that are quirky (likely naturally quirky, retaining their quirkiness in translation).

Sakumi tries to live without her full memory, though this is stressful. Meanwhile, she continues to mourn her dead younger sister, support her struggling young half-brother, and find her way to BE. In time, she finds ways to appreciate the world’s beauty while interacting with an odd collection of friends, relatives, and acquaintances who are each trying their best to enjoy life on their own terms.

While Sakumi takes time to appreciate the way lacy curtains look in the sun or to deeply feel the suffocating presence of ghosts who died in battle on a tropical island, her reconciliation with her situation and ability to enjoy life by being fully present in the moment give the book an ultimately soothing vibe.

Book: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Cover of the book Book "My Sister, The Serial Killer" by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, The Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
published by Penguin Random House

The first time Ayoola calls her doting older sister, Kerede, to say that she’s in a bad situation and Kerede finds her covered in blood, it is stressful. The second time Ayoola insists another man had scared her tiny self, and that this man is dead, Kerede helps her unquestioningly.

But the third time?

No one could possibly think ill of angelic, beautiful Ayoola. No one would even believe Kerede if she told them – surely they would say she is mean due to jealousy, because she is so plain-looking! So Kerede pours her heart out to a comatose man at the hospital where she works.

But now Kerede wants someone who isn’t comatose to believe her, because Ayoola is going out of her way to attract the man Kerede cares about most.

This is a lively tale of family dynamics, trying to survive the patriarchy, loyalty, workplace crushes, the societal currency of being attractive, and the many uses of bleach. I was completely engrossed!

Book: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence
by Louise Erdrich
audiobook published by HarperAudio

This audiobook, read by the author, gets off to a rough start: people in bad situations are making bad decisions, and the wrongness of it all started to dissuade me from sticking with it… but the story turns!

After Tookie’s bad decisions lead to a long prison sentence, books help her survive incarceration, and lead her to seek a job at an indigenous bookstore in Minneapolis.

Her passion for books makes her an effective bookseller, and her love for a former tribal policeman gives her a warm home life. However, the survival of the bookshop – and everyone she cares about in and outside of it – is in doubt when the COVID pandemic hits.

An eventful year unfolds. Tookie meets her unexpected grandchild-in-law, a white customer dies and haunts the store (!) creating cultural difficulties in her discussions with her husband about ghosts and fear the customer was killed by something she read (!), she experiences the routine annoyance of white people badgering her and her colleagues with their we-were-the-good-guys family mythologies about indigenous people, and George Floyd is murdered nearby. The protests, and the solidarity from the Indigenous experience with police, made this year-in-the-life tale feel completely current.

Erdrich, who is Chippewa herself, spins a heartfelt story of a difficult year of an indigenous person with a criminal record trying to hold her life together. Tookie has had a gritty upbringing and has developed unusual expertise in saying the wrong thing, but her actions are always infused with caring, good intentions, and books.

Erdrich’s love of books comes through very clearly in the writing, and this is one of those fiction books that comes with its own recommended reading list! (I am pretending that I will someday get to the books on the list!). It also includes friendly-but-serious bickering between characters about wild rice preferences.

This book is an unconventional narrative that portrays one imperfect woman’s experiences of recent global and US events, the ongoing challenges of being a previously incarcerated person, the aggravations of midwestern racism, and getting along with in-laws, plus abundant and heartfelt book-love. The book’s title will shift in meaning as you read it.

Book (Manga): Father, I Don’t Want This Marriage by Hong Heesu, Roal, Yuri

Father, I Don’t Want This Marriage
by Hong Heesu, Roal, & Yuri
published by

This is the MOST FUN manga I’ve read in AGES. I laughed out loud! I squealed! I found myself impatient for new chapters! I have screenshots of the hot dad character saved on my phone! [*squeal*]

How on earth did this romance-action-comedy win me over, when I usually like my stories packed with sci-fi vehicles and dystopian struggles?

There are several good answers. CHARM. Enthusiasm. Humor. Artists who adore the characters they are drawing! COMEDY OUTTAKES and IN-HOUSE FAN ART AT THE END OF MANY CHAPTERS! Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to shout, but those are the areas where I have the highest squealing-and-screenshot ratio.

Background: is a website for manga / comics / “webtoons” authored in Korea, which are serialized and sold in chapters. A common theme across the romance and action comics on this site is that a contemporary young person works themselves to death in the REAL world, and wakes up as a character in a favorite book or video game. Rather than being the hero/ine, they (often) find themselves in the role of a doomed villain, and (having read the book or played the game that is the secret script for this world), set out to upend the story by making very different decisions to change their fate. These are stories of redemption, heroism, second chances, and (for the romance heroines) opportunities to learn selflessness to earn the love of all around them.

This webtoon is my favorite of this model so far!

Plot: Our rich, pretty, noble-title-bearing heroine, Juvellian, wakes up in her book role, knowing that she loves a man who will betray her, she has lost the affection of her widowed father, and that she is fated to die a horrible, lonely death in a dark place. She wakes in the timeline after she is established as a villain but before things go completely rotten, and she decides that she will DO BETTER.

She starts a program of self-improvement, shedding the man she has been chasing and painstakingly redeeming her terrible reputation one person at a time. She is sincere, and wants to survive!

Comedy in the story takes many forms: the heroine is terrified of small, cute animals, but not the things/people that are life-threatening; ongoing mistaken identity situations lead the heroine astray in her conspiracy to dodge a marriage to a murderous royal; there is abundant, awkward teen romance silliness; there are constant father-daughter misunderstandings; there are masks; an overprotective and supernaturally handsome father terrorizes his daughter’s suitors; we see the stresses of small animals from their own points of view…

A misunderstanding between major characters and their intentions.  From Father I Don't Want This Marriage at
I laughed out loud at this man’s fantasy of how his poorly communicated message would be received.

This is a period drama set in an imaginary version of [unspecified European place] so that everyone central to the plot can be rich, have too many fasteners on their clothing (a favorite theme of the illustrators!), live in palaces, have lots of idle time to get into trouble, AND can be at risk of execution by petulant local royals! There are politics, but also curses, vicious rumors, evil stepparents, very forbidden dungeons, poisons, neglected veterans, and rock-star-handsome knights.

The humor can be dry and very funny. Comedic, child-like (chibi) versions of the characters represent them in emotional moments. Cartoon wallpaper hovers behind them when they think they are being clever. There is overstatement, understatement, exaggeration, and so many other good humor-tools well applied.

This comic has teen-romance values: all the young ladies love the handsome knights because they are so “pure” (!?!), there is no kissing, nothing is racy, and marriages appear to be mostly made for class & political reasons. The heroine is very young, so the romance is a why-is-my-heart-racing, oh-gosh, how-did-I-never-notice-how-handsome-he-is slow path. And that’s fine! Both Juvelle and her eventual partner grow up and become better, braver, more responsible people during the events of this story.

There are giddy posts from other characters in the manga AND in our real world online about how handsome Legis Floyen (Juvellian’s father) is, and it was clear it was fun to draw him and his entourage. The artists’ giddiness is adorable (they love him in glasses, they love him at the beach, they love him with medallions…). I will show restraint, and share just one of those charming, in-house-fan-art images… with his shirt on. There are other favorite WHOLESOME images of Legis I could share, but they could hint at spoilers, and he is supposed to remain a mystery for many of the 123 chapters (!) I happily paid for. (Note that these comics are presented in English, but some fan sites used other translations, so Legis is Regis, Juvelle is Jubel, and the name of the comic itself has variations.)

Pinup Dad: Duke Legis Floyen

Any comic that keeps me reading for 123 chapters and can make me laugh out loud is a winner. This comic has so much going for it: high quality art (in color!) with lots of digital fabric textures, a brave and modern girl trying to set things right, action, curses, family secrets, monsters, garden parties, monsters at garden parties, ADORABLE characters, deathbed confessions, rivalries for the hot male lead title, excessive fasteners, and high stakes battles. It’s a winner! I love it! This team should hurry up and illustrate more stories about Legis so I can keep buying them!

Book: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Book: this Is How You Lose The Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Audiobook published by Simon & Schuster Audio

I had no idea that this audiobook (from would be SO ENGAGING!

Time traveling agents comb through battlefields in the aftermath of devastating wars, and gather intelligence to make adjustments in time and events so that their own side will win. But at one battlefield, there is a note. A taunting, gloating note. An invitation to the finder from a skilled strategic rival to… do what, exactly?

Whether it is a dare or a trap, communicating with the enemy is highly dangerous. And yet, elaborately coded exchanges between these professional rivals begin, woven and shaped through time, so that only a specific arch enemy will spot and interpret it.

And those communications are… thrilling.

Are communications with enemy rivals supposed to be thrilling? Are finding their cleverly devised codes supposed to make your not-necessarily-human heart race?

This is a well-acted, FUN, page-turner-if-this-had-pages story of rivalry, risk, intrigue, and mutual admiration that delighted me. I recommend it highly.

Book: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

How High We Go In the Dark
By Sequoia Nagamatsu
Audiobook published by Harper Audio

How High We Go In the Dark is a book about a plague that reshapes humanity for centuries. (Note, this is not about the plague we are in at the moment. Also: it is intense to read about a world reshaped by plague, while in a world pretending not to have an ongoing plague at all…)

Melting permafrost reveals the remains of ancient people, who thaw and release the Arctic Plague upon the world, a pandemic of terrifying symptoms and profound lethality. The scale and scope of the suffering it causes remakes the world in surprising ways.

If you have wondered how serious a plague would need to be for society to adjust its values around voluntarily ending life to limit suffering; to refocus the economy around the business as its core; or how the risk of humanity’s end could drive new goals for space exploration, Sequoia Nagamatsu has wondered about this more – elaborately, delicately, thoughtfully. Through a series of interconnected chapters / short stories / vignettes, we learn about the Arctic Plague through the eyes of people who discover it, die from it, spare their loved ones from dying of it, mourn their losses, try to cure it, survive it, and travel between worlds to create a future without it.

Nagamatsu’s world building is remarkable – so plausible, so human, yet so far from the particular choices we are making during our current plague. The characters have motivations that are varied, but make sense. The settings are notable in the way the characters describe how they feel when they experience them, yet are never so detailed that you require footnotes. The emotional journey of coping with global grief and hope is handled so well. The story reveals humanity adapting to this challenge in surprising ways under the worst circumstances.

I listened to the audiobook version of this from, which is brilliantly acted by a cast of about fifteen voice actors (!), whose characters are compelling. (For those of us who live in the SF Bay Area, some of the voices sound pleasantly local in our port-city, collecting-people-from-afar-and-influencing-each-other way.)

This has been my favorite book of 2023. I think of it often, and have recommended it internationally! Go read or listen to this excellent book.

Book: Unknown Number by Azure

Unknown Number
by Azure (
published on Twitter

This is a sci-fi story about parallel universes, and a person who makes contact with a parallel version of themselves to see how their life could have been different. It’s concise! It’s great! Go read it.

Books: The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez

The Love Bunglers
by Jaime Hernandez
published by Fantagraphics, Seattle, Washington

Oh, this book hit me hard.

This book centers on Maggie, one of the heroines of the Love and Rockets Locas stories, and the hardships – and relationships – that shaped her and her family from childhood through middle age. With her family eager to suppress the truth – about infidelity, abuse, divorce, and painful separations from partners, siblings, and friends – traumas play out in slow motion over many years, but are not fully healed.

In her later years, Maggie may have a chance to (re)connect with the people she loves, before they are truly gone.

This is a well executed, well drawn, well told story. While I’ve seen elements/chapters of this in other collections, there is new material here as well, and the way it is all combined creates a profile of Maggie’s relationships that packs a great emotional punch.

I recommend reading ALL of the Locas stories first, to understand more of Maggie’s life and the relationships (shown here in chapter-length flashbacks) for the greatest impact – and because the Locas stories are GREAT! (Disclosure: I cried at the end of Locas volume 1, so I’m invested in the characters. No, I’m not telling you why I cried.)

I love this – and highly recommend it to all Maggie (and Love and Rockets) fans.

Book: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Moon of the Crusted Snow
by Waubgeshig Rice
book and audiobook published by ECW Press
audiobook read by Billy Merasty

This novel is a slow, intense burn – and the audiobook is narrated in an impressively CANADIAN manner!

Evan and his family have a comfortable, modest life on a small Anishinaabe (First Nations) reservation, where he works for the community government in a range of jobs that are enough to keep his spouse and two children warm and fed through brutal Canadian winters. He enjoys hunting to keep his extended family fed through the winter, and he and his wife both enjoy meeting with elders to learn more about the old ways, which their community has partly abandoned in favor of modern trappings that arrived with reliable electricity.

When the power goes out, it disrupts the community’s school and local businesses, but is sure to come back soon.

Then the landlines stop working. Which is exotic.

Then the satellite phones and radios go silent as well. For a community displaced to this isolated reservation a few generations ago, who are accustomed to keeping to themselves, there aren’t any obvious places to go for information that aren’t a great distance away.

And then, refugees begin to arrive from the nearest non-native town, where some sort of societal collapse is underway… It occurs to Evan that the power may not be coming back on again for a very long while, if ever. And, that some members of his community aren’t interested in doing the work required to survive without imported foods and fuels…

The story builds tension throughout, with soft moments of Evan’s children learning Anishinaabemowin words from the elders in between fights breaking out over emergency supplies, armed standoffs, premature deaths, and the realization that a community really shows its character during a crisis…

Actor Billy Merasty’s intense Canadian-ness adds something special to the narration. The sort of chill, slow-paced ‘how are your folks doing’ dialog while tensions mount contributes to the surreal nature of the crisis: these are ordinary people living ordinary lives until the crisis hits, and they maintain their normal pace in a realistic manner. (No one suddenly becomes a super-efficient action-movie-hero! ) His reading of the Anishinaabemowin dialog, and the way that local words mingle with Canadian English so naturally in inter-generational conversations, reminds me of inter-generational, multi-lingual conversations here – they are well written and well performed. (Merasty is a First Nations actor and author himself, though from a different group than the author.)

This is a well-written, compact, increasingly stressful book to read – stressful in a good way. I’m glad I read it!

Book: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

by Andrew Sean Greer
published by Little, Brown, and Company
audiobook published by Hachette Audio
narrated by Robert Petkoff

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize!

Arthur Less is a 49-year old man living in San Francisco, trying to get his new novel published, dreading age 50, and trying to accept that his young partner moved out and moved on. When an invitation arrives to that young ex-partner’s forthcoming wedding (!!), he decides to flee rather than face it.

Piles of previously ignored invitations to be a guest lecturer, a conference speaker, a writer’s retreat participant, and more suddenly find their purpose – helping him avoid humiliation!

His escape out of SF and around the world does more than just help him avoid his feelings about ‘the one that got away:’ it nearly gets him killed, sparks new feelings, introduces new friends, offers insights about his life that he’d rather not have, has him offering to kill students trying to sign up for his classes, and gets him to his 50th birthday in a series of both sweet and absurd misadventures.

The excellent reading by Petkoff had me laughing out loud. Especially the portions translated from German, which Less believes he speaks fluently, to hilarious effect. Also: the general observation from a character that perhaps books about middle-aged white guys feeling sorry for themselves aren’t appealing. HAHAHAHA!

This is a fun, charming, novel about trying with all ones might NOT to see one’s life imitating art.